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To conclude this essay, we can
clearly see through Fassbinder’s work that the character of Maria Braun does represent
Germany struggling to live in the new modern era after the First World War,
thus proving that the main focal point of the melodrama Die Ehe Der Maria Braun
is a critical representation of German identities and what it means to be
German. In the final analysis, it is interesting to note the structure of the
film as a whole; the film’s structurally motivated ambiguity extends beyond the
question of whether Maria’s death at the end of the film is the result of an
accident or a deliberate action. It is rooted in a complex disclosure on
Germany’s identity after the First World War in which private emotions and
actions are reflected in public developments and vice versa.

A common occurrence regarding national
identity is how the film was concerned about what memories the German people
had about their dark national past. Maria Braun herself can be seen as
representing the country’s past. In the words of Jean de Baron, “the fate of
the heroin parallels the fate of Germany; conquered, corrupted, reconstructed. Maria
Brain not only symbolises Germany, in Fassbinder’s eyes she is Germany.” (Marcia,
Landy, 2001: 190). The concept of corruption is explored towards the end of the
film. Maria learns that whilst Hermann was imprisoned he had made a deal with
Oswald’s wealth for allowing Oswald to enjoy Maria until his death. Hermann
essentially agreed to sell Maria to Oswald, which indirectly reflects Germany’s
national past. As Maria’s dream is destroyed, the film implies that the German
nation was deceived as well. The West German Chancellor, Adenauer, was heard on
the radio in the background, first declaring that Germany will never rearm,
then later insists that Germany must rearm. The German Chancellor has made a
secret agreement to rearm Germany. The film therefore addresses this
realisation that Germany’s post war prosperity was based on a series of false
premises.

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Furthermore, one important feature
that reflects national identity and national past in the film is the
soundtrack. Die Ehe Der Maria Braun uses soundtrack to highlight new national
beginnings. At the very end of the film Maria dies from an explosion she caused,
whilst simultaneously the radio commentary excitedly exclaims “Deutschland sind
Weltmeister!” Contextually, West Germany defeated Hungary and won the 1954
football World Cup. Germany is shown to have regained its standing status in
the world by winning the match, showing a fresh beginning. The film therefore
uses the sport of football to convey the message of national unity. Maria and
Hermann depart Germany when they die but they leave Germany in good hands,
leaving the country to celebrate its football triumph but most importantly its
national success.

With the most important factors
that shaped West German culture in mind, the final area to discuss concerns the
theme of national identity shown throughout the film. The quest for identity is
portrayed as the central motive on both personal and public levels throughout the
film; it opens up with Maria leaving the black market. Her mother asks her “is
that you Maria?” This is the first of a series of questions and incidents in
the film where characters go searching for Maria, the proclaimed representation
of Germany as a whole nation.

Similar to this theme is the
importance of gender in the film. The protagonist Maria Braun does not appear
to be as traditional as German women at that period of time typically were. In
the opening scenes of the film the audience sees that Maria and Hermann are a
married couple and therefore immediately draw the conclusion that she has that
faithful allegiance. Furthermore Maria has her own job, at first in the bar and
later on she becomes involved with Oswald’s company. Taking a closer look, it
becomes clear that Maria’s life is mostly surrounded by men. Most of the
success and prosperity she has towards the end of the film is all because of
Oswald and the rewards she earns shouldn’t be deserved for her but rather for
Hermann, therefore this characteristic of being rather dependent on men serves
its purpose in this incident. The role of gender is a very important theme
throughout the film, especially for Hermann. For example he ends up going to jail
for the crime that Maria had committed in order to protect her, therefore it
can be asserted that the traditional gender roles were very important to
Hermann. Perhaps it can be concluded that Hermann’s attitude towards gender
role reflect many other men during this time. However Hermann goes on to show
that these gender roles are more important than Maria’s happiness. This is
emphasised when he has completed his business with Oswald, as he proves that
his own financial independence is more important than the happiness from Maria.
I find that Hermann’s situation is very similar to other men during this period
of time, because they come back from the war to find that the women have become
a lot more independent compared to before. As a result they felt that they have
no place in society as much as they used to.

Moreover, Hermann Braun, the
husband of Maria, plays an important role in the case for the role of women in
society. Throughout the film we can see that he has acquired his wealth by
turning Maria into some form of object that he can exchange at his own will
with Oswald. This part of the plot is described as an attack on the traditional
gender roles which Maria seemed to subvert but are re-established through the
agreement between Oswald and Hermann. This refers to Braun’s male insecurity –
Hermann’s inability to accept his wife’s independence as the basis of their
marriage. This can also be linked to the issues of sovereignty and self-determination.

Another important theme that must
be considered when discussing West German culture is the role of women in
society. A popular viewpoint of this film in particular is through a feminist
viewpoint; the character of Maria Braun symbolises the fate of not only German
women but women around the world for whom the immediate post war period had
brought the kind of autonomy and liberation to. Therefore national identity can
be strongly linked to the struggles of women. This liberation can be supported
by Maria’s pleasure in playing the male role and in succeeding in a man’s
world, in particular when she acquires the job at the bar and is able to
provide for her ill mother. This pleasure is gained by the compromising of her
own identity – she made it in this period of time because she plays by society’s
rules, which conveniently have been made by the men themselves.

In addition, further historical
background dates back to the end of the First World War, where the country
found itself in a significant identity crisis. The first attempt at democracy
(Weimar era) had ended as a complete disaster, therefore Nazi dictatorship
threw the country into destruction that has not been seen since the 30 Years
War. At a point of Stunde Null, there
were two initial reactions; the first was to forget about all that happened in
the past, resulting in a “self-willed amnesia” and reluctance to the citizen’s
true “Germanness.” On the other hand, despite the shame there was some
awareness that behind a shattered nation destroyed by war and conflict, there
was a long and great cultural heritage that justifies a sense of national
pride.  It was these two attitudes that
provided the basis for what it truly means to be “German.”

This argument is supported by Fassbinder’s
choice of historical detail within the film and the continuous use of radio
broadcasts as a primary source of information. In the early stages of the film,
the radio broadcasts the missing names of the soldiers at war, giving the
audience a sense of authenticity. Further, the news dealing with the rearmament
agreements conveys more political messages for an audience looking for more
valid explanations to the events that occur. Despite the apparent loud volume
of the radio broadcasts the characters in the film continue to go about their
daily lives and ignore the message being delivered, emphasising the
obliviousness of political developments and thus provides an explanation of the
historical continuities and missed opportunities. A common character trait
amongst the oblivious German citizens, they are too envisaged within their
private lives and struggle for success that they ignore the decisions made by
the leading politicians until it was too late.

One of the more significant themes
that shaped West German culture regards historical events and the idea that the
German people continuously dwell on the past which ultimately affects their
future actions in this post war era. As shown in the film, Fassbinder’s
historic reconstruction is first and foremost a “construction” or “spectacle”
that creates the impression of reality through heavy reliance in contemporary
films, radio broadcasts and narratives rather than any unmediated reality. This
can be further justified in the opening and closing sequences of the film. They
show a confirmation of unbroken continuities in post war society and politics.
The closing sequence in particular not only extends the impact of the story
into the future, but also suggests retrospective re-interpretation of the film’s
narrative, adding a symbolic dimension to the realistic story and elevates the protagonist’s
status to a typical representative of the German condition as we know it in the
immediate aftermath of the war.

Die Ehe Der Maria Braun is
described as a melodramatic film dealing with the story of a woman struggling
to succeed in a predominantly man’s world on her own accord as well as a story
of the age in which she lives in. At the time in which this film was made, national
identity and what it means to be “German” was a popular theme amongst works
created and Reiner Werner Fassbinder was perhaps the most significant
film-maker of this movement. This essay will discuss the forces to which German
culture and national identity was shaped as portrayed in Die Ehe Der Maria
Braun as well as the significance of these events in the film over a wider
historical context, linking back to the ambiguity of German identity.

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